A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that over half of respondents reported feeling stressed during the holidays due to a lack of time or money. Meanwhile, a National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) study found that 64% of people dealing with mental health issues felt that the holidays made their symptoms worse.
Typically, anything that strays from our norm can cause stress. Trips away from home, taking time off work, spending time with people we don’t see everyday… When our routine is disrupted, we’re expending mental energy worrying about how to make everything work. On top of that, we tend to put aside the habits that bring us back to ourselves and make us feel calm, like exercise, reading, meditating, or simply spending some time alone. For these reasons and many more, like family dynamics and the pressure we feel to make everything “perfect,” the holidays can be an extremely stressful time.
"... therapists are seeing mental health symptoms being exacerbated even more than usual this year."
- Make a List (Check it Twice).
Sit down with either a journal, a pen and paper, the notes app on your phone, or your computer. Take some time to write down the skills and activities you usually use to take care of your mental, emotional and physical health. This way, they’ll be at the top of your mind when the season begins, and you’ll have a tangible reference list.
- Set Boundaries.
Amid loved ones, work and other obligations, set aside some time for yourself to do the things on your list; anything that makes you feel happy and refreshed. Additionally, some of us may need to consider our family dynamics. How comfortable do you feel spending time with family members or friends? Consider limiting your time at gatherings, or deciding on circumstances you are okay with. Don’t put your own physical or mental health at risk out of obligation.
- Take Care of Your Body.
Stress can manifest like a physical illness to our bodies. Take care of yourself the same way you would if you had a cold. Get enough rest, drink lots of water, make sure your nutrition is on-point and take supplements like Vitamin D. Prioritizing your physical health will better enable you to care for your mental health.
- Spend Time Outside.
There are many studies that tout the benefits of nature, sunlight and fresh air on both our physical and mental health. This time of year, cold air, snow and early sunsets can deter us from spending time outdoors. Make an effort to take a walk outside, even if you have to bundle up and wear reflective clothing. Light boxes can help simulate the positive effects of sunshine.
- Don’t Over-Do It.
Take care not to overspend or over-work. Make a budget, and stick to it. Send cards instead of gifts, or suggest a Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange so each person only needs to purchase one item. Your loved ones should understand, and you’ll be glad you kept your spending to a limit when the holidays are over. Meanwhile, remember that work will be there when you get back; don’t forget to make time for rest and fun during this season that comes only once a year.
- Assess Your Risk.
Everyone should do their own risk assessment for their safety or comfort spending time with others. Take your health and vaccination status into account, as well as that of the people you live with or are close to. Consider how regular testing and masking could help increase you and your loved ones’ safety and comfortability. If needed, plan a video call instead of an in-person visit.
- Seek Connection.
For those that find themselves feeling lonely during the holidays, remember that this is the perfect time to connect with friends and family you haven’t spoken to in a while—in whatever way you are comfortable with. Don’t worry about bothering them at a busy time of year; they’ll be thrilled to catch up and connect. If you’re interested in finding new folks to connect with, seek out a like-minded community. Find a support group, whether virtual or in-person, or even an online forum.
- Help Others.
There’s no better way to celebrate the holidays than to give your time to a great cause. It’s a great time of year to try out a volunteer opportunity; there are many one-off opportunities available working with children, elderly, animals and many other populations in-need. It will feel nice to give back, and you may find some new friends or a year-round hobby.
"There is no wrong time to start therapy, and no wrong reason... It may be the perfect time to make a positive change in your life."
- Ask for Help
There is no wrong time to start therapy, and no wrong reason. If you’re struggling to address how you’re feeling, are unable to stop cyclical negative thoughts or feel that you’re lacking an adequate external support system, a therapist can help you work through the stressors you are battling; they can be part of that support system for you. It may be the perfect time to make a positive change in your life.
If you’re struggling with access to mental health care based on availability or income, remember that Ethos Wellness clinicians offer HIPAA-compliant, virtual appointments at no extra cost compared to in-person appointments, and the Ethos Training Institute offers low-cost therapy on a sliding-scale. Reach out to our care team in confidence by tapping here. You may also consider locating a free online support group or contacting an organization such as NAMI.